Media Disdain Obvious For Marilyn Hagerty, Olive Garden Critic

After a night out on the town where I indulged a bit too heavily in “good cheer,” I awoke in what can best be described as an uncharitable mood. Suffering from the consequences of one – ok, more like seven – mistakes, my faculties were understandably diminished. This is when I made yet another unforced error. I turned on the Today Show.

You may recall that some time ago the internet was abuzz over Marilyn Hagerty, an octogenarian newspaper columnist from Grand Forks, North Dakota. She blundered into becoming a viral sensation with her weekly restaurant review column, Eatbeat, when she did a straight review of her city’s (population 55,000) newest restaurant, an Olive Garden.

The internet was quite taken with the dear lady’s description of what to many is a downscale, faux-Italian, calorie-laden place where taste goes to die. Her earnest review was passed around and she was brought onto national television where it very quickly became apparent she was not in on the joke.

Well, she’s written another review, this time of her city’s Ruby Tuesday. And once again, she finds herself going viral. As I lay on the couch, already queasy, I became more so as I watched Lester Holt conduct an embarrassing interview with this kindly woman. She once again attempted to explain that she was writing for her audience in Grand Forks, and that if she restricted it to only fine dining establishments there would be five reviews, and they’d be done.

Here’s the problem: The attitude behind Ms. Hagerty’s stories is an earnest one. She is doing a service for her community, which you may have noted is nowhere near a major metropolitan area.

But the attitude driving the viral sharing of her reviews is toxic, snobbish, and demeaning. Pointing and laughing at a review of Ruby Tuesday is nothing more than a way to publicly position oneself as culturally superior to the hicks who would eat at Ruby Tuesday. Call it snark, if you want. We used to call that being nasty.

Sneering East Coast sophisticates and pampered Millennials may have access to haute cuisine, fusion bistros, or molecular gastro pubs, but in Grand Forks I’d wager those things are in short supply. I’d also imagine a greater number of people around this country are on a Ruby Tuesday budget than would care to admit, and so Ms. Hagerty’s efforts bring real value to her corner of the planet – unlike many of the people getting a good chuckle at her expense.

In a broader sense, this episode demonstrates the disconnect between the media and the normal, everyday people they seek to inform. If their first impulse at getting a glimpse of flyover country is to titter and jeer, can we really say they are best positioned to serve their audience?

How relevant is what they produce to people like Marilyn Hagerty? Extrapolating a bit, how much of the conventional wisdom they routinely spout as political gospel is informed by just a few ZIP codes? Why should the hicks trust people who despise them?

Lester, seeming to sense that he was being a massive prick, did mention snobbery in his opening question, but having checked that box proceeded to go on detailing just why the internet had decided to laugh at a sweet old lady who was doing her best. As it went on he seemed to grow smaller and smaller.

Bravo. My consolation is that by all appearances Ms. Hagerty doesn’t have the time to give even one damn. She has work to do.

Carry on, good lady.